On the Age of Beloveds, book of Mehmet Kalpaklı and Walter Andrews, Said Dağlı has written a response. He explained why this book is a must-read.
It is a challenge for social scientists and scholars of humanities to avoid biases and be objective. It is, even, a little bit harder for those who study Ottoman history. Turkish society is, most of the time, emotional and romantic about their past. Thus, they tend to react irrational and capriciously. This reaction is also triggered by the west-centric and marginalizing nature of the modern sciences. Taboos are not created only by the Turkish society, but also the western eye on the east, namely orientalism. After mentioning all these clichés as an introduction, I want to mention a wonderful book written by Andrews and Kalpaklı in which this challenge is accepted: the Age of Beloveds.
The Age of Beloveds compares and contrasts the Ottoman and European texts in terms of understanding the love and beloved. It is a very good source for literary historians working on Divan literature. Yet, the introduction part has somethings to say to all political scientists, sociologists, historians etc. who study such fragile geographies. This is a good starting point for them. That’s why it needs a special emphasis.
A Sinopsis from The Age of Beloveds
“When we talk about people and behaviors that are separated from us by difficult-to-bridge chasms of time, geography, culture, or rivalry, we can fall into a number of traps. […] These traps are as dangerous to scholars as to anyone else, the descriptions or representations of scholars have often been used in the service of projects to dominate, control, exploit, and reject groups seen as different, inferior, or unworthy. For this reason, contemporary scholars have become quite wary of such traps. They have written extensively about how we have fallen into them in the past and have invented a vocabulary for the task, words such as racism, essentialism, idealism, and Orientalism.”
To exemplify these traps, Andrews and Kalpaklı recreate a story told by Dukas, a Byzantine historian, about the execution of the grand duke of Constantinople, namely Notaras. According to Dukas, although in the first place Mehmet II offered Notaras the leadership of the Rums in the city, they had a disagreement on Notaras’ son. It’s told that the disagreement was caused by the lascivious demands of the new ruler of the city about this handsome and young boy. However, authors of the Age of Beloveds warn us about how people tend to attribute sexual intentions and behaviors which they don’t approve to those that they don’t know, or they don’t like. Andrews and Kalpaklı, like a story writer, retell the story to show what might have really occurred and what the real reasons behind the misunderstandings might have been.
Even if you don’t have the time to read the entire book, I strongly suggest you to have a look at the introduction of the Age of Beloveds. It’s a very good example of how to write an academic paper in a way that can attract attention. It exemplifies well how the historians can fall into traps. And of course, it is a very good source to understand the love and the beloveds in the early modern Ottoman and European culture.
Ps: I want to thank Mehmet Kalpaklı for his kindness to sign and give me this book as a gift.